Colorado State House Representative District 39, Brandi Bradley (R) presented HB23-1066 on February 27, 2023 and the public and special interest groups were there to give testimony in support or against the bill. It’s important to start educating hunters and recreationists as to who supports public land access and this bill was no exception for exposing the true colors of hunting groups, politicians, and private land special interest lobbyist groups. Insiders said that hunters needed massive support (live testimony) to move things forward. Written testimony does not carry the same weight no matter what people say. Two hunters and one hunting group showed up for live testimony in support of the bill, that’s pretty weak. Meanwhile, the opposition (anti-pubic land access) had representatives from the Colorado Farm Bureau, Rocky Mountain Farmer Union, Colorado Counties Inc, Republicans, and four ranchers there to testify.
The first thing hunters and public land recreationists have to realize with the issue of public land access (whether it be by legal right of way (road) thru private property or corner crossing) it will be fought by all private land rights activist groups and their politicians that promote the special interest of ranchers and outfitters. Private landowners love having exclusive access to our federal lands, greed is human nature anymore. This is because they benefit from better hunting, exclusive use, charging the public trespass fees to cross their property to get to the public lands, and their outfitters charging 5k to 15k per hunt which is split with the land owner. This is big business and keeping the public from accessing federal lands is not about protecting private property, it’s about protecting private landowners’ exclusive access and pocketbooks. Bradley’s (R) corner crossing bill is the perfect example of that since the public has no interest in accessing private land, they want to step from public land to public land. It’s also interesting to see how some Republicans’ actions promote public land access and other Republicans promote the interests of private land owners and help block access and legal public highways based on law, whenever they can. This has been going on since outfitting became profitable in the 1980s.
HB-1066 would establish legal access at 398 corner access points (BLM to BLM) and open up over 100,000 acres of federal public lands to the public, I would argue that it is much more than that. Let’s do some math, for hikers to have corner access to nearly 400 corners and each square mile of land is 640 acres. Most backcountry hikers will hike for miles, so if we take a modest estimate 398 X 2 square miles (1280 acres) = 509,440 acres of new access. Currently in Colorado, it’s not legal or illegal to corner cross, but it is not encouraged by law enforcement and citations have been issued. Often times in Colorado when there is a grey legal area law enforcement will side with the rancher, most long-time public land hunters who have ever reported a violation that affected their hunt (by a rancher) have likely seen this cautionary approach to ranchers firsthand.
The bill was “laid-over” on February 27th and the only hunting group that testified in support of this bill was Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA). Kudos to BHA for standing up for access but where were all the other “Pro-Access” hunting groups like Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Colorado Mule Deer Foundation, Safari Club International, Colorado Wildlife Federation, etc.? Many hunting groups claim to be pro-access but when it comes time to fight for the general public land hunters’ right to access their federal lands, they are silent. Many of these “hunting” groups are more interested in paying for perpetual conservation easements with private ranchers that exclude public access than they are in the general public land hunter having access to their federal lands.
No special interest groups do more to block access to your public lands than the Farm Bureaus and Farmer Unions. Private land special interest groups, such as Colorado Farm Bureau and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union were there to testify against public land access once again. We saw this last year when Garfield County opened up 70,000 acres of BLM land by reopening a historic road in federal court, by using federal and state law (RS-2477). These groups submitted this Amicus Curiae to the federal courts claiming that restoring the rule of law and reopening a legal public highway should be ignored because a road to public land hurts conservation and private property rights. Let’s be clear, there is no private property right that trumps the rule of law.
Many hunters are Republicans but many hunters don’t know where their Republican county commissioners and Republican state representatives stand regarding things like corner crossing and protecting legal public highways to our public lands. Many GOP candidates say they promote public land access when running for office but when the time comes to stand up for access, they hide in the shadows and claim “private property rights”. In this case, Teller County Commissioner Dan Williams testified against the bill on behalf of Colorado Counties Inc. Republican State House Representative for District 47 (Pueblo area) Ty Winter was quoted as saying the following “I will be voting against this legislation, it is a clear violation of private property rights and could put property owners at risk of frivolous lawsuits“. Coloradans, hunters, and public land recreationists have to pay attention to these actions and vote these anti-access politicians out. We have to start asking specific public land access questions during campaigns.
Bravo to Brandi Bradley for presenting such a great bill, let’s hope we can garner the bipartisan support necessary to promote public land access and pass a corner crossing bill in Colorado.